Written by Andrew Ottoson Thursday, 05 July 2007 05:36
Frank Thomas hit his 500th home run last week. I saw a headline for one of Rob Neyer’s columns on ESPN.com that read “500 is the new 400.” I didn’t read the whole thing, partly because I’m sick and tired of the idea that hitting a home run today matters less than hitting a home run 80 years ago did.
In 1921, Babe Ruth hit 59 homers, but all of six other guys topped 20 that season.
In contrast, Thomas plays in an era when the number of players who smack 20 home runs a year is huge. But I don’t think the era he played in should count against him when it comes time to decide if he should be admitted to the baseball hall of fame.
As far as I’m concerned, the only deal-breaker for a 500-home-runs guy is steroid use.
If steroids helped you hit home runs, you are not to be counted among baseball’s greatest players. But beyond that, if you hit 500 home runs, I think you’re automatically great enough to have a copper bust somewhere in the hall of fame.
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Craig Biggio recorded his 3,000th career hit on Thursday night. Biggio went 5-for-6. I bet there are more than six guys in the majors who’d sell their pinky toes if they thought it’d help them go 5-for-6 just once.
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If the argument that the game changed so much from the last era to this era can discount the value of home runs, why doesn’t that same case apply to every single, double and triple?
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Biggio’s hall of fame resume includes too much to mention here. His 684 doubles are sixth-best all-time, and he holds the major league record for most doubles by a right-handed hitter.
Biggio is also on the verge of breaking the 103-year-old record for most beanings. Getting plunked 284 times has him in second place. That might not get a guy closer to the hall of fame, but I think it speaks to his character that he has never once charged the mound. Maybe its a subtle answer to the steroids question.
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As far as I’m concerned, hitting 500 home runs should be more than enough to punch a player’s ticket to Cooperstown. Since 504 was enough for Eddie Murray, 501 should be enough for Frank Thomas.
But if that’s not enough, the best current hall of fame parallel for Thomas is probably Ernie Banks, who retired with 512 home runs after 19 seasons. Both men hit their 500th home run at age 39. Banks pounded out 2,583 hits during his career and Thomas has 2,324 hits during his 18 years to date.
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Biggio getting to 3000 hits is a huge accomplishment—a much bigger deal than 500 home runs, in my book. Hank Aaron might agree.
“It took me 17 years to get 3,000 hits in baseball,” Aaron once said. “I did it in one afternoon on the golf course.”
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Neyer pointed out that between 1920 and 1987, 14 players reached the 500 home run plateau, and that seven more have been added in the last 20 years. Seems to me that the next thing to point out is from 1965-71, seven hitters joined the 500 home run club.
The point is, baseball history comes in bursts, and it might be wise to let some time pass before we haul off and declare that hitting your 500th homer today is like hitting your 400th in 1987.
That probably isn’t Neyer’s point. I don’t know, because I quit reading after the first paragraph. (By the way “I quit reading” really means “I opted not to pay $40 to keep reading.”)
For all I know, the rest of what he wrote statistically demonstrates that since the introduction of Wheaties to baseball in 1933, the number of champions has increased exponentially.
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Alex Rodriguez, Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez and Gary Sheffield are all on the verge of stamping their passports to Cooperstown during the next year or two. And if the 500 home run club has 100 members by 2025, I think they should all be included in the hall of fame in some way.
Major League Baseball could open up a special wing just for the 500 home run club. I’d go a long way just to see that exhibit.